Human rights groups demand urgent and impartial investigations as he was among few people openly critical of the government
Human rights groups are demanding urgent and independent investigations into the killing of prominent Laos political activist and government critic Anousa “Jack” Luangsuphom while sitting in a coffee shop in Vientiane.
The 25-year-old was shot point blank in the face and chest at 10:39 pm on April 29 and died on the way to the hospital. New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the shooting was recorded on the coffee shop’s security cameras.
His death has been reported in the Laos media, however, authorities in the Southeast Asian country have not announced an investigation into the killing.
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“The cold-blooded killing of a prominent young political activist in downtown Vientiane sends a spine-chilling message that no one in Laos who criticizes the government is safe,” Elaine Pearson, Asia director at HRW, said in a statement.
“The Lao government should urgently conduct a credible and impartial investigation into Anousa’s death and bring to justice all those responsible,” she said, adding he was among the few people who regularly and openly expressed views that were critical of the government.
Anousa was the administrator of the Kub Luem Duay Keyboard — or Driven by Keyboard — on Facebook which proved popular among youths and provided a platform for issues eschewed by the communist state including corruption and repression of fundamental freedoms.
"Even activists who fled persecution in Laos to neighboring countries have not been safe"
Reports said the footage shows a gunman dressed in a brown long-sleeved shirt and black cap entering the cafe in the Chanthabouly district of the capital — and firing twice at Anousa, who is seated on the floor. The gunman then fled.
Pearson said Lao authorities have long failed to prevent or adequately respond to attacks against critics of the government, human rights defenders, and political activists.
They include Sombath Somphone — who won the Magsaysay Award in 2005 for his dedication to community service which included his work on improving farming techniques and food security. He disappeared after being snatched off the streets of Vientiane by police in December 2012.
His abduction was captured by CCTV cameras and despite the insistence by Laos authorities that investigations were ongoing, his disappearance remains a mystery.
Pearson said even activists who fled persecution in Laos to neighboring countries have not been safe and cited the case of Od Sayavong who was living in Bangkok and has been missing since August 2019.
Laos government officials deny any knowledge of both disappearances.
“The Laos government’s apparent apathy toward the brazen, daylight killing of a political activist demonstrates the country’s further slide into lawlessness,” Pearson said.
“Donor governments, UN agencies, and multilateral organizations should publicly press Laos leaders to investigate Anousa’s killing and provide answers to why this determined activist ended up paying for his courage with his life,” she added.
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